Stop and search

Transparent

Police use of stop and search powers must be transparent and accountable.

Why does transparent matter?

Transparency may be crucial to public trust and confidence in the use of stop and search powers by making it possible for the public to:

  • see how and why stop and search powers are used
  • assess what impact it might have had.

Not all disproportionalities result from deliberate or intentional behaviour1, but this is not always apparent from headline figures presented in the media or produced from analysed data. The police have the potential to improve public perceptions by:

  • encouraging better public understanding of police practices2
  • showing whether powers are being used in a fair and effective way
  • being open about when things have gone wrong and what steps have been taken to rectify them.

Doing so may reassure the public that there is genuine responsibility and accountability for police actions.

Transparency requires data to be of sufficient quality to permit analysis of trends or patterns. Individual encounters must be documented in sufficient detail so that they can be reviewed to assess whether or not the powers are being used in the right circumstances and for the right reasons. Where concerning trends or patterns are identified at individual, unit or force level, the relevant people within forces (eg, chief officers, supervisors) should be proactive in taking steps to address them.

Achieving greater transparency is also one of the principal aims of the Home Office/College of Policing (2014) Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS).

What does transparent mean in the context of stop and search?

There should be a transparent approach to the use of stop and search powers at individual, supervisory, force and public scrutiny levels.

  • Officers using the powers must record individual encounters in sufficient detail so that they are capable of being reviewed.
  • Supervisors must monitor the use of the powers by those for whom they are responsible and address any issues identified.
  • Those at senior levels must ensure that data is analysed and acted upon.
  • Force policies must support and promote the fair and effective use of stop and search powers and facilitate public scrutiny of their use.

Accurate recording of individual encounters

Accurate recording of encounters makes scrutiny possible, both internally (by supervisors and at force level) and externally (by the public). Records may also be subject to freedom of information requests to make the information public.

Stop and search
The record

The officer conducting the stop and search must ensure that a record is made of every stop and search encounter, including where the person is subsequently arrested. A record is required for each person and each vehicle searched.

Record of vehicle search

There need only be one record if a vehicle and its driver are searched under the same grounds. If more than one person in a vehicle is searched, a separate record must be completed for each person. If only the vehicle is searched, a note must be made of the self-defined ethnicity of the person in charge of the vehicle (if provided) and, if different, their ethnicity as perceived by the officer conducting the search, unless the vehicle is unattended.

Mandatory details

The record must always include the minimum details specified in Code A:

  • a note of the self-defined ethnicity of the person being searched (if provided) and, if different, their ethnicity as perceived by the officer conducting the search
  • the date, time and place the person was searched
  • the object of the search, ie, the article the officer was searching for, such as offensive weapon or bladed article, drugs, stolen property or items for use in theft or criminal damage
  • a clear explanation of the legal basis for the search, ie, the reasonable grounds for suspicion or authorisation
  • the identity of all officers conducting the search – where recording the names would cause a risk to the officer or if the investigation relates to terrorism, warrant/identification number and duty station can be given instead.

BUSSS requirement

Paragraph 1.4 of the BUSSS specifies that data must be made available which shows whether the object of the stop and search is connected to the outcome. To comply with the BUSSS, therefore, the record should also state:

  • whether or not anything was found
  • if it was linked to the reason for the stop and search and
  • the outcome of the stop and search.

APP requirement

Where a search exposing intimate parts of the body (EIP search) is carried out, the search record should include confirmation that a supervisor was consulted, who this was and when they were consulted.

Code A does not require the person searched to give their name, date of birth, address or any other contact details. Officers must take care not to create an impression that the person is obliged to do so.

Recording the legal basis for the search

The officer must record:

  • the search power used
  • a detailed explanation of why the power was used – what this should include depends on the power used.

APP requirement

If the search is an EIP search, the explanation should include the reasons why an EIP search was necessary (ie, the reasons discussed with the supervisor).

Officers should consider the National Decision Model when developing their rationale for the stop and search. Framing their reasoning in this structured way can help to explain decision making in a witness statement or in court if required.

Powers requiring reasonable grounds for suspicion

The officer should describe the reasons prompting them to search the person. This should include:

  • any specific intelligence or information and its source
  • any specific behaviour by the suspect
  • the suspect’s answers to any questions asked
  • any other relevant information.

The officer does not need to provide unnecessarily lengthy information. They must, however, provide a sufficiently detailed explanation of the grounds to enable a reasonable person to assess whether their grounds were reasonable. If the officer provides insufficient detail for a third party to judge this, the officer cannot meet the second step of the legal test, ie, that the grounds for stopping and searching are objectively reasonable.

The officer should ask themselves if:

  • they have provided enough information for someone else to understand their decision and
  • that information is specific and detailed enough to make it possible for someone else to judge whether a reasonable person would also have suspected a specific individual of carrying a specific item in those specific circumstances.

Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPOA)

Under Code A, paragraph 4.3(d), officers must record:

  • the nature of the power
  • the authorisation
  • the fact that authorisation was given.

In addition, paragraph 2.14A of Code A states that section 60 powers must not be used for reasons unconnected to the purpose of the authorisation. Although not a mandatory recording requirement under Code A, chief officers should actively consider whether or not to require officers to record:

  • the reason why the search of this individual is connected to the purpose of the authorisation.

This is not about requiring officers to have reasonable grounds for suspicion, but making it possible to show that the power is being used within the limits of the authorisation and in an objective manner compatible with paragraph 2.14A. It is the responsibility of the senior officer granting the authorisation to ensure that its purpose is clearly articulated and communicated to officers.

The driver of a vehicle or any person stopped under section 60 is entitled to a written statement that they have been stopped and searched under that section if they apply within 12 months of being stopped. It may be part of a search record or of a separate record.

Powers to search persons when searching premises

Section 139B Criminal Justice Act 1988 and section 23(3) Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 both require reasonable grounds for the search of premises (and in the case of section 23(3), a warrant), but no prior grounds specific to the individual being searched.

Code A does not specify any recording requirements for these powers but states in paragraph 2.29 that the decision to search a person on the premises should be based on objective factors relevant to the reason for searching the premises. Although not a mandatory recording requirement under Code A, chief officers should actively consider whether or not to require officers to record:

  • the reason why the search of this individual is relevant to the reason for searching the premises.
Using body-worn video to record information

Where available, body-worn video (BWV) should be used in accordance with force policy. The standard approach is that BWV should be activated so as to capture all relevant information in the time leading up to the person being detained for a search, the conduct of the search itself and the subsequent conclusion of the encounter.

Where an EIP search takes place, officers should record the encounter in accordance with force policy, but should cover the camera (or direct it away from the person) whenever intimate body parts are exposed. Audio recording should remain activated. The officer should explain to the person that the recording is for the protection of all parties and reassure them that intimate parts will not be filmed.

Retention periods for BWV footage are a matter of force policy due to variation in capabilities and cost implications. When developing their retention policy, forces should bear in mind that search records can be requested for up to three months under paragraph 3.8(e) of Code A.

Procedural requirements

Under Code A, the procedural requirements for recording a stop and search differ slightly according to whether or not the search results in an arrest.

In all cases, the officer must make an electronic or paper record of the stop and search unless exceptional circumstances make that impossible, eg, major public disorder. The record should be made immediately or as soon as practicable after the encounter. Officers should also record the stop and search data on the appropriate force system as soon as possible in accordance with force policy.

The person searched must be offered a copy of the record of search. If the person accepts this offer or independently requests one, the officer must give them a copy on the spot or a receipt (in a format complying with local force policy) explaining how to get one. If the officer is called to an incident of higher priority and it is not practicable for them to give the person a copy or a receipt at the scene, the officer should give the person the details of the police station where it may be requested.

Where the search results in an arrest (other than where the person is granted street bail and not brought into custody), responsibility for asking the person if they want a copy of the record transfers to the custody officer. The search officer is still responsible for ensuring that a record of the search is made as part of the custody record.

Unattended vehicle

If the search is of an unattended vehicle or anything in or on it, the officer must leave a notice in or on it to say it has been searched. This should include the name of the officer’s police station and how to get a copy of the record or claim compensation. The officer should leave the vehicle secure if possible.

Other types of encounters: local monitoring of disproportionality
Detained for search but search does not take place

If a person is detained for the purpose of a search, but the officer subsequently decides that the search is no longer needed following questioning, the person must not be searched. There is no national requirement to complete a record in these circumstances.

Code A guidance note 22A suggests that forces can decide whether officers are required, locally, to record the self-defined ethnicity of persons detained but not searched, where there are concerns requiring local monitoring of disproportionality. Forces may also decide that officers must record such encounters even where there are no particular local concerns, as a measure of reassurance internally and to local communities. Local guidance should be provided where this applies and records should be closely monitored and supervised.

In order to help avoid dissatisfaction and prevent the person later questioning why the encounter was not recorded, the officer should explain to the person they have detained why they will not be completing a stop and search record. The officer should have already explained the original grounds for search at the point at which the person was detained. The officer may find it useful to make a brief record in their pocket notebook of why the person was detained and the reasons why no search took place, to safeguard against any subsequent complaint.

Stop and account

There is no national requirement for a record to be made of a stop and account.

Code A guidance note 22A suggests that forces can decide whether officers are required, locally, to record the self-defined ethnicity of persons stopped and asked to account for themselves, where there are concerns requiring local monitoring of disproportionality. Forces may also decide that officers must record such encounters even where there are no particular local concerns, as a measure of reassurance internally and to local communities. Local guidance should be provided where this applies and records should be closely monitored and supervised.

If a person asked to account for themselves requests information on how to complain about how they have been treated, the officer should provide this. Any public encounter where a member of the public expresses dissatisfaction should be recorded in accordance with force policy to:

  • safeguard the officer
  • ensure transparency.
Section 163 Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA) and Police Reform Act 2002 (PRA) powers

HMIC recommends:

There should be a set of minimum recording standards for section 163 RTA and PRA powers for the purpose of assessing their effective and fair use.

(See HMIC 2015 Stop and Search 2 Recommendation 3 for full text)

The Home Office has indicated that they are considering extending Code A to encounters under section 163 RTA, but this does not currently apply.

Section 163 RTA and the PRA powers are subject to the same general obligations as any other police power: the duty not to discriminate on grounds of protected characteristics (section 149 of the Equality Act 2010), and the duty not to act in a manner incompatible with the ECHR rights of any individual (section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998). This means that it is unlawful to use these powers in a discriminatory way.

Consequently, although there is no national requirement for a record to be made of stops under these powers, forces may wish to adopt a similar approach to stop and account, ie, to consider requiring officers to record self-defined ethnicity of persons stopped under section 163 RTA or a PCSO power under the PRA where there are concerns requiring local monitoring of disproportionality and effectiveness. Forces may decide whether officers are required, locally, to record such encounters even where there are no particular local concerns, as a measure of reassurance internally and to local communities. Local guidance should be provided where this applies and records should be closely monitored and supervised.

Supervision and monitoring

Effective supervision and monitoring of stop and search practice requires input and ownership at all levels. Everyone has a role to play, up to and including chief officers, and police and crime commissioners (or their equivalents: Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime for the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Corporation for the City of London Police and the British Transport Police Authority).

All those involved in the supervision and monitoring of stop and search practice (including external stakeholders) should be mindful that the primary purpose of stop and search powers, as stated in Code A paragraph 1.4, is to enable officers to allay or confirm suspicions about individuals without exercising their power of arrest. Where a stop and search is negative and does not result in an illegal item being found, it may still be regarded as a legitimate outcome if it is conducted in a fair, lawful, professional and transparent way. Supervisors, and senior officers in particular, should focus on the lawfulness of search activity (in basis and in application), its effectiveness, and its compliance with professional and procedural requirements. They should recognise and support good stop and search practices by officers, even where nothing is found.

Understanding disproportionality

Disproportionality in stop and search, including racial and ethnic disproportionality, is driven by a range of factors, both internal and external to the police3. Not all of these can be addressed through police action. Closely monitoring any disproportionality can help ensure that its nature, extent, possible causes (eg, deliberate targeting) and consequences are better understood. This may help forces to decide what, if any, police action is required to address it.

In its 2013 report, Stop and Think Again, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) identified a number of key steps which appeared to contribute to a reduction in race disproportionality. They are a combination of improving officer awareness of what constitutes good stop and search practice, and stringent monitoring of its use.

Officers using stop and search powers should be supported through:

  • training in reasonable grounds for and proportionate use of the power
  • training in sufficient and accurate recording of grounds.

Other key steps identified by the EHRC in its report as contributing to a reduction in race disproportionality at senior and supervisory level include:

  • senior level commitment and leadership, including the appointment of a senior officer with overall responsibility for the stop and search programme (ie, a dedicated force stop and search lead)
  • a written policy based on good practice
  • promoting intelligence-led practice and prohibiting practice based on subjective hunches
  • examination of patterns over time at force level
  • an external reference group of constructively critical members
  • micro-monitoring to identify and address any skewed racial patterns at individual or area level.

Understanding effectiveness

There is very little research on the impact of stop and search on crime4. Some studies suggest that higher rates of stop and search may be associated with lower than expected rates of crime, but where a link has been found it is usually weak. General increases in stop and search are, therefore, unlikely to have much of an effect on crime, although stop and search may have more of an impact in crime hot spots5. Stop and search may be most effective if used as part of a problem-solving approach aimed at active prolific offenders6. Given the available evidence on effectiveness, forces should closely analyse the impact of different stop and search powers on a range of crime types to identify how practice could be improved.

Monitoring at supervisor level

Supervisors should seek to establish a supportive environment in which open and effective challenge can take place. Officers should be confident they will be supported in their use of stop and search, provided their decisions and conduct are lawful, fair, professional and transparent. Supervisors should acknowledge that searches can be legitimate even where nothing is found, recognise and share promising and compliant practices, highlight positive encounters and support officer development where it is needed.

Supervisors must monitor stop and search to ensure its use is appropriate, lawful and complies fully with Code A. This should enable them to account for its use. The supervision of stop and search should not be viewed as a ‘tick box exercise’. The nature, extent and frequency of this monitoring should be proportionate to local or force concerns. Monitoring activity should ordinarily include:

  • scrutinising the stop and search records of all those under their supervision to ensure:
    • compliance with the recording requirements (ie, is the record complete and are the grounds made out?)
    • compliance, where applicable, with the BUSSS requirement to record whether or not anything was found, if it was linked to the reason for the stop and search, and the outcome of the stop and search
    • accurate transfer of the record onto the relevant force data system
    • that the written grounds are sufficiently detailed and reasonable (forces may require supervisors to check every stop and search form)
    • compliance with Code A and other procedural requirements (eg, gender of search officer, appropriate referrals/safeguarding notifications being made for children and young people)
    • consideration is given to whether there is any evidence that powers may have been used on the basis of stereotyped images or inappropriate generalisations
  • examining team- and officer-level data to understand trends and patterns in stop and search use, eg:
    • the number of repeat (unsuccessful) searches of the same person
    • the proportion of searches resulting in an arrest or other criminal justice outcome
    • the proportion of searches based on information and intelligence, focused on force/local priorities, targeted towards active prolific offenders, and/or carried out in recognised crime hot spots.

Options for more proactive supervision that supervisors should consider include:

  • reviewing BWV footage of stop and search encounters (where available)
  • directly observing stop and search encounters while on patrol
  • listening into stop and search encounters over the radio
  • debriefing stop and search encounters in person with individual officers while reviewing the stop and search record
  • exploring complaints, or any other evidence of dissatisfaction, related to stop and search
  • keeping their own records of EIP consultations – who, when and what the outcome of the consultation was (reasons and whether EIP search went ahead) – so that these can be cross-referenced to officer records.

Supervisors should not use volumetric performance targets to assess stop and search and should not use the number of searches as a measure of officer productivity. If quantitative frameworks are used, they should be accompanied by measures to mitigate the risk of unintended outcomes.

Supervisors should aim to use monitoring and more proactive supervision to identify and encourage promising practices, highlight development needs and see where additional or closer supervisory support may be required.

Supervisors must take timely and appropriate action if any concerns come to light about a team’s or an officer’s use of stop and search, eg, if an officer does not respond positively to additional support or breaches professional standards of behaviour. The appropriateness of the response will depend on the circumstances of each case. It may also be appropriate for supervisors to escalate concerns to a more senior officer, to take formal management action or to liaise with professional standards for them to consider disciplinary action. Supervisors should refer to the Code of Ethics, employment law and human resources policies and guidance when developing their response.

Supervisors should also record their monitoring, proactive supervision and any follow-up activities in relation to team and officer use of stop and search and any relevant outcomes of these activities.

Supervising officers are responsible for ensuring that their officers complete stop and search training as required by force policy. They should allocate training time and monitor completion levels. They should ensure officers’ learning is kept up to date as appropriate and that additional learning is undertaken where there is a development need. Supervisors should also consider what additional action may be required at a local level to support the training in order to maximise its impact.

Monitoring at senior officer and force data level

Senior officers with local and force-wide responsibilities must proactively monitor the broader use of stop and search powers and take action where necessary. In the areas for which they are responsible, senior officers should familiarise themselves with the patterns and trends in the data so that they understand and are able to account for how stop and search has been used. The extent, nature and frequency of monitoring should be proportionate to local or force concerns. Senior officers may, for example, decide that every stop and search form must be subject to additional supervisory checks, or commission advanced statistical analysis of the annual stop and search data. Senior officers must be in a position to articulate their force position with regards to the fairness, effectiveness and proportionality of their stop and search activity at all times.

Monitoring may include:

  • identifying any disproportionality in stop and search and other encounters, and exploring its possible underlying causes (eg, repeat encounters involving the same person)
  • analysing the overall effectiveness of stop and search such as:
    • the proportion of searches that lead to an arrest or other criminal justice outcome
    • the frequency with which the item searched for was found
    • the possible contribution of stop and search to crime reduction relative to other policing activity
    • mapping stop and search activity against crime
  • exploring the extent to which different stop and search powers are being targeted appropriately, eg, towards active prolific offenders, in crime hot spots, against force priorities, and/or based on intelligence/information
  • identifying possible community tensions resulting from stop and search practices
  • inviting and responding to public feedback on stop and search practices
  • for the purposes of compliance with BUSSS, examining the relationship between the item searched for and the outcome of the search.

Monitoring at a strategic level should be used by senior officers to identify promising and potentially problematic practices. Senior officers should ensure that any problems with the use stop and search are explored using a range of different sources of information, and that their possible causes understood. Where necessary, they should develop an appropriate response to address the problem and its possible underlying causes. Where promising practice is identified, senior officers should have a system in place to ensure that it is cascaded to officers and supervisors.

Senior officers should also take steps to ensure supervisors carry out their duties effectively in respect of monitoring the use of stop and search by teams and individual officers. This could be done, for example, by dip-sampling supervisors’ entries on stop and search records, and quality assuring the monitoring and proactive supervision they have carried out. Such action should help ensure that they are taking ownership for stop and search at a more strategic level and that they are providing appropriate oversight, support and challenge. Senior officers should focus on issues of greatest community concern, eg, stops involving children, vulnerable people and black and ethnic minority individuals.

Senior officers are responsible for ensuring that officers and supervisors have the appropriate knowledge, attitude and skills for exercising their powers to stop and search. This should include ensuring that development opportunities are available and that stop and search training is undertaken by all officers across the force who use stop and search powers as well as their supervisors. Completion levels of any stop and search training should be monitored. Force training should comply with College of Policing national training standards and be based on the best available evidence. Senior officers should also consider what additional action may be required at a force level to support the training in order to maximise its impact.

Code A, guidance note 22A, offers guidance on monitoring the use of stop and account, and where a person is detained for search but no search takes place. Although there are no mandatory recording requirements for such encounters, guidance note 22A sets out a discretion for forces to direct officers to record the self-defined ethnicity of persons in such cases, where there are concerns which make it necessary to monitor any local disproportionality in their use. Forces may also decide that officers must record such encounters even where there are no particular local concerns, as a measure of reassurance internally and to local communities. Where a force decides to adopt such a requirement, senior officers should ensure that local guidance is provided, efforts are made to minimise the bureaucracy involved and records are closely monitored and supervised. They can suspend or re-instate recording of these encounters as appropriate. This APP suggests that forces may wish to consider using a similar approach for encounters involving section 163 RTA and PCSO powers under the PRA.

Senior officers should ensure that their own decision making around stop and search is based on objective factors. They should consider the consequences of each decision, eg, in terms of its impact on crime and local communities. Where, for example, a force requires senior officer authorisation for the deployment of passive drugs dogs and knife arches as part of high-profile stop and search operation, that officer should ensure that any authorisation granted is backed up by intelligence relevant to the likelihood of finding what is being searched for, and that it is not being used merely as a tactic. Officers should be fully briefed on that intelligence and how it may contribute to forming reasonable grounds for suspicion. Senior officers should ensure that processes are in place to capture and review any lessons learned.

Specifically in relation to section 60, Code A states that it is the responsibility of the senior officer granting the authorisation to ensure that its purpose is clearly articulated and communicated to officers. This should include briefing officers on the intelligence that underpins the authorisation.

Comprehensive data from stop and search records must be compiled at force, area and local level. This data must be compiled in a way that allows analysis to be carried out for identifying trends and patterns at an area, team and officer level.

Under BUSSS, forces are expected to record and publish a broader range of outcomes, not just arrest. They are also expected to show whether the object of the stop and search is connected to the outcome.

Forces should make the data available to the public on force websites and on www.police.uk.

Public scrutiny

Community scrutiny

All forces should have processes in place that allow members of the public to hold the chief constable to account for the use of stop search powers in their force area.

Forces and PCCs (or their equivalents) must make arrangements for records to be scrutinised by community representatives and to explain use of powers at local level. The level of public scrutiny should correspond to the level of local concern in relation to stop and search. The number of complaints about stop and search is not a reliable indicator of this. For example, in its 2013 report, HMIC noted that a survey of people who had been stopped and searched showed that only 16% of those who were dissatisfied with their encounter actually made a complaint. Forces should have processes in place to understand the extent of local concern. Scrutiny should focus on issues of greatest community concern, eg, stops involving children (especially those under 10), vulnerable people and black and ethnic minority individuals.

Scrutiny arrangements should respect the right to confidentiality of those stopped and searched. The records examined by members of the public should be based on anonymised forms and/or statistics generated from records. The groups consulted should be representative of their communities and should always seek to include:

  • children and young people
  • both men and women
  • an appropriate mix of ethnic backgrounds relevant to the force area.

Specific arrangements will vary between forces but they should operate in a way that allows the force to provide effective scrutiny. Forces may wish to ask communities what arrangements they would like to see and what can be done to improve their confidence in the use of stop and search. The community group should have clear terms of reference and be independent of the police.

The BUSSS requires participating forces to provide opportunities for members of the public to accompany police officers on patrol when they might use stop and search powers, to improve public understanding of the police and contribute to improvements in practice. Members of the public who participate in lay observation should have the opportunity to provide feedback to the police based on their observations. Each force should complete their own risk assessment for any person on patrol under the lay observation scheme. The scheme should be open to young people subject to risk assessment, which may restrict the nature of the activities in which they can participate.

Complaints

The BUSSS requires participating forces to adopt a local complaints policy which requires the police to explain to local community scrutiny groups how stop and search powers are being used when the volume or nature of complaints reaches an agreed trigger point.

Each force must involve their local community in the development of the trigger and what volume or nature of complaints would set it off. Where complaints are particularly low or a force wishes to achieve a maximum level of transparency, forces may consider treating every complaint as a trigger requiring explanation and scrutiny by community groups.

Forces should develop and make public a policy which:

  • ensures that individuals who are stopped and searched are made aware of where to complain
  • sets out a straightforward and accessible process
  • introduces a threshold above which the police must explain their use of stop and search, primarily to local community groups responsible for scrutinising the use of stop and search.

The key points of the policy should be set out in an easy-to-read information leaflet which can be handed out following any stop and search encounter. The leaflet should be clear and understandable to children as well as adults.

Some people may find it difficult or be reluctant to engage with the police directly for a variety of reasons. In recognition of this, forces could consider identifying key groups or organisations working locally who may be able to provide support, advice or advocacy to people wanting to complain.

Page last accessed 20 January 2018